A Simple Home Test To Find Additives In Rum
Years ago, a very important occasion for rum enthusiasts was when Johnny Drejer started doing hydrometer tests on rum. All of a sudden there was an easy method available for consumers to get a better idea about what they were actually buying. Additives or no additives? Are the brands and their reps lying or not? Is it really this sweet because the particular sugar cane is the sweetest in the world and the rum has been aged in a herbal garden at high altitude for 30 years? (I didn’t make this up. This is courtesy of Don Papa, Zacapa and Centenario).
When Johnny started publishing the test results, a tiny minority of rum enthusiasts was cheering. The vast majority’s response was attack attack attack. Trying to discredit the method and the people who were using it. Rum “influencers”, “experts” and brand reps all involved in this. “Why are we ruining the mood with this sugar talk?! Who cares?! Rum is fun!!!!”. Some regular consumers jumped on the attack bandwagon because they felt their (sugary) premium rum purchases might not seem as premium anymore. Brands coming up with far fetching statements and theories about why their rums were sweet and how it’s merely a tradition. El Dorado talking about ageing rum with added caramel in the barrel. Plantation, and especially its owner Alexandre Gabriel talking about how adding sugar brings out flavours, just like a chef who adds salt to a dish. I’m laughing out loud while I’m writing this. Their cask strength expressions don’t have added sugar. I guess they don’t need it, the flavours are already there. Some say sugar is added to mask low quality distillates. Mr Gabriel’s theory definitely seems to support this view. Then there is Zacapa. They are still denying that they add sugar. Likely because it’s sweet sherry instead of plain sugar. That’s what mostly happens anyway. It’s not sugar that’s added, it’s sweet wines or sugar syrups.
Many will and have been saying:”There is nothing wrong with adding sugar”. Then why lie about it?
As with all things in life, some don’t care about what’s in the bottle and some do, which is fine. It’s everyone’s own choice what they decide to spend their money on. Others, mostly industry people, have something to gain by consumers remaining rum dumb. There could be many motives for this. Money would be the most common one, as sugar and the illusion of premium rum through added sugar sells well. Whatever your preference is, sugar or no sugar, in general it’s good to have more information about the products we are consuming.
The “sugar education” has helped to change the rum industry somewhat. Consumers are powerful, especially when they are educated. Even more so when they feel they’ve been lied to for many years. Look at some of the changes in the past few years. El Dorado is still talking about ageing with caramel in the barrels, but has somehow drastically reduced the sugar levels in their rums. Sorcery! Angostura was always denying additives, but lab tests showed they were lying. However, their current 1787 has 2 grams of sugar according to Alko. Change! Plantation decided to put the amount of added sugar on some of their labels years ago. They still add sugar to many of their expressions, but lower amounts because of recent EU rule changes (max 20 g/L). You can now find many rums with labels that will state “no additives” or “sugar free”. It’s becoming trendy. We aren’t out of the woods yet though. Brands like Zacapa, Plantation, Centenario, Dictador and many others are still coming up with a lot of bs to mislead the consumer for maximum profit, but there is progress, which is great.
Anyhow, a long introductory story to say that I’ve finally started performing my own hydrometer tests. I’ve always been too lazy to do them and would either check Fat Rum Pirate or Drecon for test results. The reason why I overcame the laziness is the discovery and subsequent purchase of an Anton Paar EasyDens. Slightly more advanced and easier to use than a traditional hydrometer and thermometer. It only needs a tiny sample of rum to work and the result is shown through an app on my phone. It measures the temperature in the room and adjusts automatically. Super convenient.
Johnny has a full explanation on his site about how this method works. Click here for his site. But in short, the hydrometer comes up with an alcohol reading that should be similar to the stated abv on the label (assuming it’s correct on the label). If the reading is off, it means the density doesn’t correlate with that of a rum of the claimed abv. That density change happens because of post distillation additives. In most cases this is added sugar, but we can’t be 100% sure. Only a laboratory test can give that assurance. Hence why I publish the Alko and Systembolaget lab test results as well.
Long ageing times in barrels can introduce some additives to rum. This should always be under six g/L though. Therefore, any reading 5g and under is considered to not have added sugar.
I’m separating the results in three categories. Fresh bottle (FB), open bottle (OB) and sample bottle (SB). The fresh bottle gives the most reliable reading. The rum in an open bottle can change over time, which can affect the hydrometer test result. This is why I won’t test bottles that are half empty or below. Sample bottles have been given to me. They are full samples, but I don’t know the state of the bottle they came from.
I’m doing this to provide more information about some of the rums I come across. The more information we have, the easier it is to make educated buying decisions.
Finally, I’ve also added a few test results to the Alko and Systembolaget lists. Click here for all the test results, including the hydrometer ones.